Tuesday 1 June 2010

All change in the think-tanks

ippr's innovative co-director team Carey Oppenheim and Lisa Harker emailed the think-tanks' friends and contacts on Thursday last week about their decision to step down in the near future:

Next week ippr begins the search for a new Director as we step down to pursue new challenges. With more than 10 years of service to ippr between us we retain great pride and affection for an organisation that continues to produce unrivalled policy research in pursuit of a more equal, democratic, sustainable world.

We leave ippr in robust health; with strong finances, a first-rate team and an expanding portfolio - extending our reach both within the UK and internationally. Next month we will launch a major new programme of work on the future of the economy and embark on a series of events examining Lessons for Progressives chaired by Tony Wright. ippr's contribution to progressive politics is more important than ever.

We look forward to keeping in touch with you in our new roles and in the coming months as we prepare to hand the baton to our successor.

On the right, Centre for Social Justice executive director Phillippa Stroud has joined Iain Duncan Smith as special adviser at the Department of Work and Pensions.

I have yet to see any official announcement from Demos about Director Richard Reeves' departing to advise Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg on political strategy.

Reeves did confirm the news when speaking at last Thursday's Institute of Government event "what now for the opposition", in response to news that this was circulating on twitter from Guido Fawkes and others. Given the event's theme, Reeves insisted the (public) event be under Chatham House rules, though he was careful not to then use that freedom to say anything the slightest bit reportable.

One would expect, given their public advocacy of principles of transparency and fairness, that each of the think-tanks would follow an open process of advertising the post publicly as part of the process of seeking to recruit and appoint successors.

I am pretty sure that ippr did do that last time that there was a change of Directors, though my recollection is that Demos' Trustees simply announced a new appointment within a day or two of it becoming public that the previous Director, Catherine Fieschi, was resigning. Perhaps it was felt that there were special circumstances, and that a rapid appointment was needed for stability, though we shall see whether that may prove the preferred approach this time too. (As you might expect, the Fabian Society does have a standing policy of publicly advertising when a senior post is vacant).

UPDATE: ippr confirm that is indeed their policy too: "In line with our practice for all appointments (from paid internships to directors) the appointment of Carey and Lisa's successor (or successors - another job share perhaps?) will be through an open and competitive process. Indeed anyone interested can look out for an advert in tomorrow (Wednesday's) Guardian".

More broadly, Reeves has taken on an interesting challenge in Downing Street, as Clegg will now need a very different long-term political strategy for his party than that set out in his Demos pamphlet last autumn. As we summarised at the time:

Clegg places the LibDems firmly on the centre-left of the progressive spectrum, acknowledging that they share this space with Labour, and arguing that the 'progressive conservatism' will be revealed to be a contradiction in terms. However, this sets up an argument not for cooperation between progressive forces, but for the LibDems supplanting Labour as the dominant progressive party, reversing Labour's eclipse of the Liberal Party in the inter-war years in the last century.

I was, however, sceptical of claims at the time from LibDem bloggers that planting the party's flag firmly in centre-left territory "ruled out" any deal with the Conservatives in the event of a hung Parliament. And Graeme Cooke of Demos' Open Left project offered a constructive dissenting note from within about Clegg's caricature of the Labour tradition and its engagement with liberalism.


James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

"I was, however, sceptical of claims at the time from LibDem bloggers that planting the party's flag firmly in centre-left territory 'ruled out' any deal with the Conservatives in the event of a hung Parliament."

Okay, okay, mea culpa. In retrospect I should have added the qualification "all other things being equal". I didn't expect to see what we witnessed, specifically a situation whereby the Lib Dems and Tories could form a majority while the Lib Dems and Labour could not.

If all other things had been equal, I still maintain that we'd have ended up in a Lib-Lab coalition.

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. it was intended as a rather gentle dig: I was sceptical that this would go beyond supply and confidence, but clearly there is a rationale for doing so.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

Supply and confidence seemed like the easiest path back then, but when a balanced parliament is real and in your face it looks a lot different. It seemed like a way of remaining ideologically pure - now it just looks like even more pain for even less gain.

I will happily admit to, like most people, being appallingly coalition politics-illiterate before 7 May. I think we are all experiencing a pretty steep learning curve at the moment.